One of my daughter’s favorite TV shows is TLC’s “What Not to Wear.” In this makeover reality show, participants are nominated by friends (?), co-workers or relatives to participate in a fashion makeover, but only after being thoroughly humiliated for their bad taste in clothing.
The poker equivalent would be my very own “What Not to Play.” Let me explain…
Bovada online poker recently introduced “Zone Poker,” a super-fast paced game of No Limit Hold’em. When you hit the fold button, you are immediately moved to a new table and another hand begins. A copycat of Full Tilt’s “Rush Poker,” this format increases the number of hands played per hour by a factor of at least 3-4x.
Because you can fold and move to another table right away, it is much easier to simply fold in sticky situations or coin flips and wait for more favorable betting situation. And because Bovada poker is 100% anonymous, there is no player tracking or stats possible. On occasion you can recognize a few other players based on their stack sizes – typically those with very large stacks. Otherwise, you don’t really know if the players at your table include any of the players from the previous hand, or not.
After playing with this for a couple of weeks, I’ve reached a few basic conclusions. (Alright, some of you might have reached these same or even smarter conclusions much faster… I don’t care!)
Note that virtually all of the play in Zone Poker is at the 6-max tables, and currently Zone Poker is only available at the micro stakes, but it will be introduced at higher levels eventually.
First of all, there is no meta-game to play. Being caught in a bluff is not likely to get you paid off in a later hand. Players cannot recall if you are loose or tight, or always check-raise with good draws when out of position. Staking out a certain image in order to capitalize on it later in the session is a waste of time (“WOT”).
Bluffing works some of the time but not all the time. If getting caught in too many bluffs causes you to tilt, just don’t. Some of the big stacks do try to run over the table, but that style has not worked for me.
Position is critical. Playing speculative hands from the blinds – typically justified based on pot-odds, being “priced in” to the hand or not having to worry about a raise from additional players still to act pre-flop, is a tremendous spew of chips. (See this prior post for more on playing speculative hands OOP.) By speculative hands, I mean those where a “good” flop results in a draw more often than a made hand. For example, suited connectors, suited one-gappers and suited aces frequently (about 10-11% of the time) lead to a flush draw. Other connectors and gappers often lead to straight draws – more often a gutshot than an open-ender. So now you are out of position, not sure what the other guys have or plan to do, and have to decide between leading out, check-raising, check-calling or check-folding. I’ve noticed a lot of check-raise all-in bets getting called when the pre-flop aggressor has top pair or an over-pair, and even the best draws are going to miss most of the time.
Too much variance for me to play these aggressively, too spewy to play these passively.
Also not to play are the weaker unpaired Broadway cards, especially out of position. JTs, KT, KJ, QTs can get in a lot of bad spots against overpairs or higher kickers. Against an under-the-gun raiser, I might even fold KQ on the button. I want to know where I stand, and these hands make it really tough.
3-betting pre-flop is fine with the biggest hands, but no one is tracking your 3-bet percentage. Again, no meta game advantage to be gained. I’ve quit 3-betting a lot of hands, such as AK and also cut way back on 3-betting to protect my blinds against button open-raises. (Side note here: Annie Duke wrote an excellent poker strategy book called “Decide to Play Great Poker.” She says many players worry too much about defending their blinds. I’m not sure the exact quote but basically she says Let the Dick Measurers Measure Dicks! Yikes, that’s one tough lady!) In Zone Poker you don’t have the same guy on your right constantly attacking your blinds, so there is nothing gained by sending a message. If you think you have the best hand, bet. Otherwise, move on to another table.
By 3-betting less, the stack-to-pot ratio is larger and so are the implied odds. I have less invested in the hand, so I can fold on a sticky flop situation without feeling like I’m making a big write-off. For hands that need good implied odds, such as set-mining with medium pocket pairs, this helps. Of course, I’ll still open-raise with many of these in an unopened pot, but rarely 3-bet.
Calling from good position with speculative hands is OK some of the time, but generally should be limited to the button and multi-way pots. I’ll over limp with suited connectors on the button, and sometimes call a raise if there is already one caller. Otherwise, what the hell am I doing in the hand with 97s when I can start another hand in less than 5 seconds? And God forbid, what am I going to do if the pre-flop raiser checks on a flop like Q-7-3 and I have 9-7s? Seems like every time that happens and I bet, the guy has flopped top set and is trapping. Since folding pre-flop on the button is FREE, let’s take advantage.
The end result of all this is a style of very tight / aggressive ABC poker. Play good cards, especially when there is no prior action, play big hands aggressively, stay out of trouble. Tricky, trappy play rarely makes sense, other than a basic check-raise when out of position against a pre-flop aggressor.
Paradoxically, many of the players in this game – remember this is only at the micro-stakes for now – are the most dis-believing of your straightforward play. A little while ago, I called a pre-flop raiser in position with 66 and hit a set on the flop. I called on the flop then raised all-in on the turn noting there were 2 suited cards on the board. Sensing a flush draw, the villain called with top pair (Q’s) and a 9 for his kicker. Really. Q-9s calls an all-in turn bet on a Q-high board.
Easy game. (or perhaps not as the remainder of this post wlll illustrate all too well…)
Year-to-date online results: (- $1,958)
Month-to-date online results: + $119